By JAVIER DOSAMANTES
In 2015, Tucson became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States, a distinction shared by only 36 cities in the world.
Tucson is famous for its unique multicultural food scene, particularly for its rich Mexican cuisine.
In the very true and eloquent words of the late Anthony Bourdain: “I should remind you that Mexico is not homogenous. When you say ‘Mexican’ food to a Mexican, you haven’t really said anything at all. There are 32 distinct states, the food changes from region to region.”
One universal staple, however, is the taco (seriously, there’s even a Netflix docuseries about it called “Taco Chronicles”).
And the taco landscape in Tucson is one of the best in the country. Local chefs who specialize in tacos have appeared on the Food Network, and many lists and features have been written about the best tacos in Tucson … but a question remains.
Who has the best taco in Tucson?
Every year, people across the United States congregate for March Madness — a single-elimination tournament — to determine who’s the best men’s college basketball team in the nation.
The field of competition is huge, a total of 68 teams participate in the tournament and it includes a diverse mix of every kind of team, from famous powerhouses to small regional underdogs.
As the city that proclaimed itself to have the “Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food” in the country, it’s time to proclaim who has the best taco in Tucson … single-elimination style.
A taco can come in many forms and price ranges. It can be gourmet (yes, it’s a thing), it can be from a restaurant or it can come from its most infamous source, a food truck.
However, a taco is a taco — it is foundationally composed of a flour or corn tortilla to hold a protein (meat or veggies) and you adorn it with fixings.
Those fixings include an infinite assortment of salsas and other veggies, like pickled red onions or radish.
No distinction of genre exists between these toppings, instead they all fall under the category of “powers.”
You can strip down the complex game of basketball to three layers: offense, defense and coaching. And much like basketball, you can strip down the complex anatomy of a taco to the tortilla, protein and powers.
Whichever basketball team can put all three layers of the game together or can be so overwhelmingly good in one is the team that wins.
So to find out which is the best taco, we’ll analyze and score each one in three categories:
Thankfully, there’s no time limit on when to stop eating a taco, like there is in basketball to stop playing.
We’ll instead score each taco individually in these categories on a range from 1 to 10 (10 being the best), and whichever one has the highest added score will win and advance to the next round.
To crown a champion and find out who’s the best of the best, we’ll put the tacos in divisions and conferences determined by the major taco genres in accordance with their regions.
There will be four divisions and two conferences:
- North Conference: Carne Asada Taco Division and Fish and Shrimp Taco Division.
- South Central Conference: Al Pastor Taco Division and Birria and Carnitas Taco Division.
Each division has four participants, and winners of each division will face the winner of the other division in its conference. Then the winners will compete against each other to represent their conference against the other conference for the title of “Best Taco in Tucson.”
In a city that has such an outstanding Mexican food scene, it was hard to choose who got the chance for their “One Shining Moment.”
Local landmark restaurants and iconic spots like “El Charro Café,” “Mi Nidito,” “Bk’s” or “El Güero Canelo” did not make the cut.
Criteria for selecting the hopeful participants of a tradition like none other, was:
- It has to be a local establishment.
- It has to have a well-reviewed roster of tacos.
The committee tried to include a mix of long-established places, relatively contemporary places and up-and-comers.
In addition, we also researched who had the more authentic tacos or the more original spin on the taco without compromising its soul.
After a hard-fought and excruciating journey to create a great taco, the contenders for the title of Best Taco in Tucson Tourney are:
Carne Asada Taco Division:
- BOCA Tacos y Tequilas
- Tacos del Rancho
- Los Tacos Apson
- Karamelo King
Fish & Shrimp Taco Division:
- El Berraco
- Taco Fish Tucson
- Baja Tacos
- Cocteleria La Palma
SOUTH CENTRAL CONFERENCE
Al Pastor Taco Division:
- El Chinito Gordo
- El Tacoson
- Ensenada Street Food
- Polo’s Taqueria
Birria & Carnitas Taco Division:
- Carnitas La Yoca
- Taqueria Juanitos
- El Taco Rustico
- Maico Restaurant Mexican Food
Good luck to all the participants and a shout out to the others who stayed in the bubble, but are worth a try:
- Taqueria Aqui Con el Nene
- Rollies Mexican Patio
- Taqueria Pico de Gallo
- Tumerico (vegan)
Every week a division winner will be determined, and every week, a taco will be one step closer to becoming a champion and immortality. Because legends never die.